1,300 Breakfasts on 1,300 Desks

Every morning, 1,300 breakfasts are placed on 1,300 desks in Balboa High School.

“We’re very intentional about putting them on each desk, so that students don’t have to feel ashamed or embarrassed to walk up and pick up a breakfast out of the bin. We distribute them to all students, and if they don’t care for it then they can return it.” Assistant Principal Freedom Siam explains.

Not far from San Francisco’s rapidly gentrifying Mission District, you’ll find students from all walks of life at Balboa High. Some students are homeless, others are navigating the foster care system, and there are kids from wealthy and middle-class backgrounds too. About 60% of students at Balboa count on a their free school lunch. But, now, no matter their circumstances, every kid can eat a free, healthy breakfast at school.

Armed with the knowledge that offering breakfast during the school day is the fastest way to end child hunger, the staff at Balboa started a school breakfast program that has helped quell chaotic hallways and improve kids’ learning. But they quickly recognized that they had to make sure their program fought the idea that only “poor kids” eat free school breakfast.

“I had to confront my privilege,” Principal Susan Ritter recalls. “Initially, I thought, ‘Okay, there’s a basket full of food, and you can get up and just go pick up the meal.’ But, that stops kids. You are so fearful that someone will find out that you are living in poverty that you will do almost anything so that people don’t know. The student who is not living in poverty, would just get up and grab a meal, and not think anything of it. But for the students who are living in poverty, they’re not going to do that because they feel like everyone knows ‘I don’t have anything in my refrigerator.’ And that is the absolute last thing we want to do to a kid here.”

The kids notice a difference too.

“The food gives us energy so we’re actually more motivated to pay attention in class and learn,” Ehdzky, a senior at Balboa says. “School breakfast helped me get better grades and focus on school, and not fall asleep in class. It gave me a letter grade up from a B to an A in some classes, cause I’m paying more attention, I’m not falling asleep, I have more energy. I’m actually eating breakfast.”

Today, every kid can start their day with a healthy breakfast at Balboa High School. And when we make sure kids eat school breakfast, we don’t just end hunger, we feed our future.